This historical segment has been partly funded by a Local History
Grant issued by the Brisbane City Council Heritage Unit 1998.
Bulimba Creek Protection Society expresses it appreciation to the BCC for its support of this project.
History of Bulimba Creek Valley's Belmont District
[ Page under Construction ]
Compiled by John Godfrey, a member of what was previously the Bulimba Creek Protection Society.
The geological, floral and fauna background of the Bulimba Creek catchment recall some aspects that are relevant to the Catchment's social history, as they gave rise to the cornucopia of resources found by indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Indeed the social history of the Bulimba Creek Catchment is an account of the exploitation of those resources. Such exploitation by indigenous peoples had relatively low-impact, whereas exploitation by non-indigenous peoples has had a devastatingly high impact, with little thought for the non-renewability of those resources.
With regard to the district's geology, rock types such as Quartzite, Chert, Slate and Greywacke were prime raw material of many Aboriginal implements, whilst generating soils which have proved to be highly erodible with the removal of the original vegetation cover by residential development. The Tingalpa formation, a deposition in freshwater lakes or swamps containing considerable plant fossilization manifesting in coal measures, figures amongst the earliest European efforts in establishing extractive industry in the Catchment. The younger rocks of the Moorooka Formation include conglomerates, minor shales and sandstones which were to be quarried extensively for aggregate employed in the construction of roads and buildings after European settlement.
Most of this rock material is the parent of soils with low nutrient values. More fertile soils in the Valley are limited to the pockets of red earths found at Sunnybank, Kuraby and Belmont, and the alluvial soils of the Creek's flood-plain, enriched by organic matter from decaying vegetation.The sand and gravel of the alluvium were used for road-base. (Stevens, N. 1973, 1984); (Beckman 1967); (Wallin 1995)
The original vegetation communities were used as material for indigenous shelter, coverings and implements, as well as supplying food staples. The heavier timbers of tallow-wood, ironbark and blue gum to be found in the forest on the forested slopes were to be sought by Europeans for the construction of their buildings. Large-scale clearing of that original vegetation for European agriculture generally adhered to the flats in the catchment where the more arable soils were. Those arable soils have now largely been built upon, or paved for infrastructure. This has occurred while the rapidly increasing population of Brisbane has placed greater pressure upon still productive farmland further away from the city.
Forested areas on the less fertile slopes were less disturbed until recently, when rampant demand for up-market residential land with outlooks, has severely encroached upon those slopes at Belmont and MacKenzie. This has periodically generated high levels of sediment in the creek. Clearing for timber, agriculture, residences and subsequent fire outbreaks have introduced noxious species of exotic vegetation which have proliferated to the further detriment of native species, with little of the original vegetation now remaining.
Both the geology and flora of the Catchment may have contributed to the distinctive 'softness' of the early water quality of the creek, which was to be so valued by wool scours in the Belmont locality for the washing of fleece.
Intensive commercial and residential development in the last fifty years has driven construction projects to the very edge of the creek itself. Actively associated with the erection of road and rail bridges (in particular, the Gateway Arterial with its linking infrastructure, and the Port Railway) and the marketing of lower cost residential estates has required parts of the creek and its adjacent wetlands to be filled, thereby altering former flood regimes. While there has been extensive modification of the main channel, Bulimba Creek, for its length, has probably suffered less substantial interference with its natural flow patterns than most other comparable urban creeks in Brisbane.
South-east Queensland is known to have been occupied by Aboriginal peoples for at least twenty thousand years. At European settlement, the greater Brisbane area was inhabited by clans of the Turrbal, Jagera and possibly Jukambe tribes, of which several lived in parts of the Bulimba Creek catchment. The Gnaloongpin clan of the Turrbal tribe is thought to have occupied the northern segment, and the Chepara clan of the Jukambe tribe is thought to have lived in the area from Holland Park south to the Logan River, while their eastern neighbours, Koobenpul group extended from Lytton to the Redlands. It is possible that the above is a post-European, rather than necessarily a traditional cultural distribution. (Petrie 1904, Wallin 1995, Steele 1972)
Aboriginal locality names for portions of the catchment include: 'boolimbah' (means 'place of the magpie lark' and refers specifically to Whites' Hill); 'tinggalpa' ('place of the fat kangaroo'); 'kuwirmandado' ('place of the curlew', referring to the Hemmant area); and 'kaggar-mabul' ('where echidnas live', referring to Mt Gravatt). 'Mudherrilmaurira' and Kuraby are believed to be aboriginal references to the many lagoons adjacent to the creek near its mouth, or series feeding into the main creek near its headwaters. (Petrie 1904, Steele 1984)
Aborigines of the locality drew
Early European observations suggest that near-coastal indigenous groups were relatively sedentary, which presumably could be attributed to the rich variety of food resources available locally. One source indicates that aboriginal groups in the area would have lived very comfortably requiring relatively little effort to tap food and other material resources (Colliver 1974). Vegetable staples to be found in the creek environs include Swamp-fern root (called 'bungwai') and the root of a fresh water rush (called 'yimbun' - a name given to a park on the creek at Sunnybank). Animal staples were fish (mullet, oysters, whelks and fresh water mussel), ,cobra' (grubs found in swamp oak saplings regularly exposed to salt water - the cultivation of these possibly represent's a simple form of indigenous farming), echidnas, ducks and snakes, which were highly abundant in the Tingalpa swamps. Nets placed across or around creeks, gullies and swamps were employed for the entrapment of kangaroos(murri), wallabies and birdlife. Middens containing discarded shell have been found at Murarrie as well as Kuraby, where bunya nut shells were also found (Steele 1975, Weedon Pears Diary, Wallin 1995, BCC Kuraby Character Study 1996).
Implements used by local aborigines were echidna spines employed in stitching possum ('kapolia') skins, mussel shell employed to chop fern root, quartzite and chert flakes employed as stone axes for removal of bark and extraction or dispatch of arboreal game. Examples of such shell and stone implements have been recorded from an artefact scatter at Murarrie. Tea tree bark acquired from plains was utilised as a waterproof covering material, and often carried about with which to build temporary shelters. (Wallin 1995, Petrie 1904)
Known campsites for aborigines in the catchment, lay between the present Glen Hotel and Bulimba Creek and in the Grenfell Street Area at Mt Gravatt. A track passed from the Logan River to Holland Park, along which Aboriginal people would travel in quest with seasonal changes. (BCC 1996, Robertson 1991)
Ceremonies were known to have been conducted at Mt Gravatt until the 1880s, and even later in the century at Tingalpa. Bora rings are believed to have been located at Murarrie near the .mouth of the creek, and between the creek and Mt Petrie at Belmont. Possible connections between initiation ceremonies in 'Kippa' ('young man') rings and water courses, have been conjectured in recent studies of bora rings. Cultural rites conducted in and around bora rings involved group activities. To support the group, bora rings were positioned in localities which afforded adequate food resources, and the fact that Bulimba Creek evidently met this requirement, provides an economic basis for any associated cultural significance the creek may have had for the aboriginal people, who were known to have their own terminology for individual items of flora and fauna along the creek.
Early conflict between aborigines and Europeans was manifested in attacks by tribesmen in the southern catchment and the adjacent Logan catchment, to which members of the pioneering Clauss and Klumpp families fell victim. The first record of such conflict is a mention in the Moreton Bay Courier in 1846, of a aboriginal theft of flour from a farm outhouse in the lower catchment. However, a descendant of a pioneer family at Tingalpa reports that as late as the turn of the century aborigines coexisted quite peacefully with her family on their farm.
With the continued arrival of more European settlers and its repercussions in subsequent shrinkage of hunting grounds and the introduced evils of foreign disease and alcohol, the numbers of aboriginal people in the catchment continued to decline. With the advent of authoritarian state legislation in the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1897 relating to the indigenous population of Queensland, remnants of those people surviving in the catchment were probably rounded up over the next thirty years and removed to reserves at Fraser Island, Stradbroke Island, Deebing Creek and Barambah. (Wallin 1995, JOL Belmont suburb file, Robinson 1 991, Porter Stanton Family History)
1823 - 1850
European contact with the creek itself and most likely the Belmont district was made in early 1823, by the three convict castaways, Pamphiett, Finnegan and Parson, prior to John Oxley's exploration of the Brisbane River at the end of that year. In taking a week to find a point on the creek shallow enough to ford it, it's likely that the castaways may have reached the what is now the Old Cleveland Rd. crossing of the creek.
Subsequent contact with the district was made in 1829, during the tenure of penal settlement. Commandant Patrick Logan, by the botanist Alan Cunningham who drew a sketch of the first land route from Brisbane to Emu Point at Cleveland. In 1838 Commandant Cotton and Andrew Petrie travelled through the middle of the Bulimba Creek valley, giving the latter's name to the hill at Belmont, where a survey station was established the following year. In 1839 Government Surveyor Robert Dixon passed through the area, naming Mt Gravatt. (Steele 1975). The bush track Cunningham had blazed to Cleveland was surveyed in 1840 to expedite the transfer of supplies from Dunwich to Brisbane, with the influx of free settlers at the end of the penal period. It was to be known as the Government Road, and subsequently as the Cleveland Point Road. (JOL Camp Hill Suburb File)
In the mid to late 1840s, Torn Petrie, son of the earlier explorer, marked a road from Cleveland to Eight Mile Plains, crossing Bulimba Creek at Wishart and Upper Mt Gravatt, which extended the dray road passing from Copper's Plains through Ipswich to the Carling Downs, enabling the pastoralists there to transport their produce to the coast for shipment. (Petrie 1904, Robinson 1 991, JOL Hemmant Suburb File)
Land in the valley was surveyed from 1852.
Early economic activity in the northern segment of the creek basin during the 1850s began with timber-getting of cedar and tallow wood, originating with the recommendations of Andrew Petrie after his expedition of 1939. The associated land clearing allowed the genesis of agriculture; maize and bananas were early crops, with banana plantations extending along the Brisbane River to the mouth but this undertaking was to prove uneconomic. The Blackball Quarry at Queensport yielded grey freestone for the construction of the first home in the Bulimba electorate in 1850 - David McConnei's Bulimba House. (Petrie 1904, JOL Hemmant File, Wallin 1995)
After Separation, with further land sales in 1861, the proclamation of the Brisbane Agricultural Reserve in the same year at Eight Mile Plains (a district which then encompassed the modern suburbs of Eight Mile Plains, Kuraby, Runcorn, and Sunnybank) and the sale of land at Mt Gravatt in 1865, there commenced a large influx of English, Scottish, Irish and German-born settlers, who began to farm extensively the more fertile flats in the catchment. Land holdings in the Hemmant-Murarrie area came to bear the names of Kelly and Calile; the middle catchment of Cannon Hill and Belmont was settled by the Weekon, Thorne (a daughter of this land holder gave her name to the later suburb of Carina) and MacKenzie families (Robert MacKenzie built the first homestead in 1864), whilst farms at Upper Mt Gravatt and Eight Plains were selected by the Clauss, Toohey, Klumpp, Kessels, Anger and Baker families. (BCC 1982, Robinson 1991, JOL Hemmant and Tingalpa Files, DNR Museum Title Map)
The farming of sugarcane, encouraged by the Colonial Government, began at Hemmant in 1863-64 by the Gibson family with canes from Louis Hope's farm at Ormiston. Sugar growing spread through Tingalpa and further up the Bulimba Creek sub catchment at Wynnum. Vineyards and orchards proliferated at Eight Mile Plains and Mt Gravatt in conjunction with dairying. Kanaka labour from the Pacific islands was used to work the sugar plantations, and to clear land for farming at Upper Mt Gravatt. At Hemmant the kanakas were fed purely on sweet potatoes, but they were known to supplement this austere diet with fish they readily caught from Bulimba Creek. Sugar farming entered a decline after an onslaught of drought and frosts in the mid 1870s and the farmed areas of the catchment began to concentrate on the cultivation of tropical fruits and vegetables. (JOL Hemmant Suburb File, Robinson 1991)
The emergence of early service industries to support the farming enterprises and increasing volumes of traffic along the three main highways through the catchment began with the sporadic development of blacksmithing facilities, and the establishment of hotels in the early 1860s . One was built by Charles Baker (who was to become a local postmaster) at Eight Mile Plains adjacent to the creek, others began trading after at Tingalpa (this establishment was named the 'Royal Mail') on the then New Cleveland Road. The first and last of these served as staging stations for Cobb and Go. coach runs. Schools were opened Hemmant in 1864, at Eight Mile Plains in 1869 (on land donated by the publican Charles Baker), at Tingalpa in 1873, and at Mt Gravatt in 1864 Churches were also established in the Hemmant and Tingalpa districts in the 1860s. The Hemmant primary school and the two churches mentioned are amongst the oldest institutions of their kind on the south side of Brisbane. (JOL Hemmant File, BCC 1996, Perrin 1989)
Industry in the catchment progressed with the development of sugar mills. The first of these was mounted, later with a rum distillery, upon the steam-driven barge 'Walrus', which serviced sugar plantations along an extensive frontage of Bulimba Creek. The first land-based mill was built at Hemmant by the Gibsons in 1869 (called 'Clydesdale'), another at Murarrie by Christopher Porter, and several more soon afterwards, as far south along the creek as the Meadowlands area. In the mid 1870s, the Jubilee History of Queensland announced the operations of ten mills in the district. Other industries to develop in the next twenty-five years were a tinsmithing works, tanneries, Baynes' wool scours and felimongeries at Belmont, the Runcorn Bonemill, and Grazier's Butchering Go Meatworks at Queensport. The Kelly Brickworks on the banks of the creek at Murarrie supplied bricks, initially for the construction of the fort at Lytton, and much later, for the swimming pool of the Cannon Hill State School. Its quarry generated firing clays for the manufacture of porcelain; the clays were subsequently judged at France-British exhibition to be among the finest in the world. (JOL Hemmant, Tingalpa Files, BCC 1982, Wilson 1997)
Infrastructure in the Bulimba Creek basin was extended with the construction of the first bridge across the creek near the mouth in 1870, which allowed the establishment of a horse bus service from Lytton to Norman Creek. Railways were built passing through both extremes of the catchment between 1856 and 1889, with the extension of the Beenleigh railway through Kuraby and the construction of a railway over the creek at Hemmant for the Cleveland line.
Residential development in the catchment was boosted by the land boom of the 1880s, and accelerated in the Cannon Hill area. Aquarium Passage at the mouth of the creek took its name from the Aquarium and its associated recreational facilities which were built in the late 1880s only to succumb to the 1893 floods. In the same year, The Mt Gravatt Recreational Reserve was established, and survives to this day. (Bulimba Electorate Centenary Committee 1959, Robinson 1991)
1900 - 1945:
While extension of the railways generated further settlement through the northern and southern extremities of the catchment, the Mt Gravatt district remained relatively less densely populated prior to World War 1. This stemmed from the reduction of traffic along Logan Road after the opening of the Beenleigh Railway, and the failure of efforts by the populace to petition for an extension of the tramway from Stones Corner after 1914. However, Muslim and Chinese families continued to arrive in the district from the 1890s onwards, further deepening the catchment's ethnic diversity. The district's recreational and cultural prospects were advanced with the establishment of the Mt Gravatt Showgrounds in 191 8. (Robinson 1 991)
The operation of the Belmont tramway from 1912 until 1925 between Norman Park and the Terminus opposite Scrub Road, Belmont, engendered further growth in the Belmont-Carindale district.
After the earlier decline in sugar production, agriculture in the catchment continued to focus upon fruit, vegetable, and poultry farming throughout the first forty years of the twentieth century. Meat processing continued to increase in importance, and 1914 the Swift Australian Co. Ltd built the Cannon Hill abattoir, described as one of the largest industrial operations undertaken in Queensland at that time, which replaced several other south side slaughterhouses. One of these was the Hope plant at the corner of Wynnum and Creek Roads adjacent to Bulimba Creek. The new abattoir was acquired by the government in 1931. At that time the Cannon Hill Saleyards were established to serve the abattoir operating until 1 991. The fact that droving of livestock along Logan and Creek Roads constituted the principal traffic in this part of the catchment for much of the first half of this century is evidence of the strength of the meat processing industry and all allied trades at that time, which was to dominate the industrial character of the catchment for the greater part of European settlement. (Mercer and Trotter 1995, Wilson, A. 1997, Robinson 1991)
Meanwhile, the hide and tallow plants and wool scours at Belmont and Upper Mt Gravatt continued to proliferate so that at the end of World War 11 there were seven in existence. Exlractive industries also operated in the catchment, with quarries at Runcorn being worked by labourers on Depression relief to deliver gravel for local road construction. Sand from a quarry at Wecker and Ham Roads, Mansfield was used for the construction of many Brisbane buildings including the City Hall. Both gravel and sand were extracted directly from Bulimba Creek at Belmont for some years to supply road base. (Murphy and Morris 1991, Roberts 1991, Robinson 1995, Vickerman interviews 1997)
Severe flooding of Bulimba Creek is known to have occurred on 1974, 1931, 1893 and 1862; subsequent flash flooding at Mt Gravatt and Mansfield was to claim the lives of several school children at the Weeker Road locality up to the late 1940s (Robinson 1 991).
During World War 1, military manoeuvres were conducted on the land adjacent to the present site of the Gateway Bridge over the mouth of the creek. In the World War 11 period, there were Australian Army camps erected at Newnham and Kessels Roads, while American search light units were stationed at the top of Mt Gravatt and at Creek Road, Murarrie. Another American military encampment lay just to the north of the Camp Hill Hotel. (JOL Hemmant and Camp Hill Files, Robinson 1991)
Post 1945 - present.
Farming activity in the catchment began to decline after World War II and presaged a wider decline in its traditional economic pursuits over the next thirty years with the closure of the last wool scour in 1976. This was linked with significant changes in the catchment's demographic character. A shift in that passage of events may have been foreshadowed by an aircraft accident on Bulimba Creek in 1954 which claimed the lives of two members of one of Tingalpa's oldest farming families. The pilot, Stan Porter, who had operated an air charter from the Stanton-Porter property adjacent to the creek, had been performing funeral obsequies from this aircraft, for a recently deceased member of another old Tingalpa family, the Kelly's, who had owned the brick works opposite. The Porter family's farming pursuits diminished sharply from that time.
Huge population growth has occurred in the catchment since then, with an acceleration of growth in the last fifteen years. In the period just before, and after World War 11, residential development spurred by local entrepreneurs such as Oates and Chester mushroomed in Carina and Mr Gravatt, along with parts of Murarrie and Tingalpa. Population numbers in Mt Gravatt surged, for instance, from 1170 in 1947 to 12,630 in 1966 (Robinson 1 991), with those figures being indicative of similar trends elsewhere in the catchment. Such population surges were fuelled in part, by the arrival of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe in the 1950s. While a blend of rural and urban lifestyles lingered on into the 1960's, large tracts of the catchment had become urban districts by the 1970s, with productive farmland overrun by a proliferation of housing estates at MacGregor, Sunnybank and Fruitgrove. Little farming now survives in the upper catchment at Rochedale, while substantial sections of bushland left intact during the earlier agricultural history of the catchment are now being cleared for residential development. (BBC 1997)
Valued components of the nineteenth century built environment have come under similar pressure; the future of Tingalpa's oldest church, and sections of the original Hemmant village, is uncertain, in the context of increasing industrial development in their environs.
Such structures as the Hemmant Uniting Church, Tingalpa Anglican Church, the residence 'Dumbarton' and the Runcorn Community Hall are among the few remnants of the catchment's early European agricultural communities.
In 1965, the newly gazetted Brisbane Town Plan declared a municipal intention for the area around the mouth of Bulimba Creek to become an industrial area with capacity for conduct of noxious and hazardous activities. In the intervening thirty odd years, the commercial and industrial profiles of the entire catchment have altered considerably also. The Bulimba Creek Basin is now dominated along its length by vast retailing complexes with a second tier of warehousing, wholesaling outlets and depots for shipping containers in the middle and lower catchment, together with a surviving matrix of manufacturing in engineering and food processing categories at the northern and southern extremities, and extractive industry in the middle catchment.
The commercial development could have been expected to increase pressure on the water quality of Bulimba Creek though it is arguable whether any consequent degradation of the ecosystem has been as substantial as that from the development of residential estates.
During the last forty years, several sewerage treatment plants had been operating adjacent to the creek, in association with some refuse dumps, only one of which (Gardner Road) is still operating. One such land fill site on the creek at Murarrie became the Murarrie Recreational Reserve which was a venue for some sporting events in the 1982 Commonwealth Games. (BBC 1997)
Residents of longstanding in the Tingalpa area have advised of recreational swimming in Bulimba Creek up until the 1950s, after which it became too polluted for such pursuits. In 1986 environmental testing of water samples from parts of the creek subject to sewage effluent discovered a species of nematode (threadworm) previously unknown in Australia, which is recognised as an indicator of sewage pollution. Residents of Belmont continued to swim in the purer waters of the creek's tributaries in the vicinity, which still host rare species of fresh water fish. Lower catchment residents have mentioned the ready availability of yabbies, and other crustacean game at Murarrie in the 1940s and 1950s (Arthington 1986, JOL Hemmant and Murarrie Files)
Prior to the Brisbane City Council's extending some protection to Bulimba's Creeks natural corridor in the 1960's, the banks of the entire creek were traversed on foot by the then Lord Mayor Clem Jones and the Town Clerk, Jim Slaughter,
In more recent times, the Bulimba Creek Reserve, incorporating the old Stanton-Porter farm site at Tingalpa, and Runcorn Water Reserve have been established for recreational purposes. They shelter large and diverse populations of bird life, which possibly represent the catchment's most valuable fauna asset. This has implications for the possibility that Brisbane's environs may supply habitats for more bird species than that of any other capital city in Australia. The declaration of these reserves in the last fifteen years may signify a slowing in the rate of further degradation of the creek, and some hope for the retention of habitat for endangered species of wildlife, such as the squirrel glider colony at Cannon Hill.
This historical segment illustrates the evolution of the Bulimba Creek catchment's social context; from its indigenous and early non-indigenous populations' acute economic dependency upon the creek and its catchment's resources, through its more recent role as a conduit of effluent and storm-water runoff, to a dawning recognition in the community of its value as an environmental, recreational and educational resource.
last update 12 April 2000